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Simple Is Good, but Simplifying the Cause of a Problem Is Bad

Simple Is Good, but Simplifying the Cause of a Problem Is Bad

Have you ever noticed we typically attempt to solve problems without fully understanding them? We develop a solution before we actually understand what we are looking at. We never actually solve the problem when this occurs.

We fall into a trap when we overlook problems. Have you ever had an uncomfortable feeling when you just knew what you were doing conflicts with what you know you should be doing? This is called cognitive dissonance and we have all had this feeling. Yet, cognitive dissonance can be a powerful motivator for changing your behavior. Think of the need for exercise. People will find all kinds of excuses to explain away their unhealthy habit of not exercising. Yet, they know they should be doing it. At some point, this uncomfortable feeling may assist them in changing their behavior, but they need a method to help them change.

Developing an Alternative Future

    We must strive to fix problems by analyzing potential causes. This brings to mind a quote from Helen Keller as often times we fail to see what is right in front of us.

    “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

    One such method we can use to assist us is a futures research method focusing on in-depth analysis of current problems called Causal Layer Analysis (CLA). CLA was developed by Sohail Inayatullah and provides us a way to develop alternative futures. [1] So, what exactly is CLA and how can we use it? To answer this, let’s look at how we can use it to move past assumptions and biases in developing alternative futures for a problem.

    How Causal Layer Analysis Makes the Invisible Visible

    CLA possesses 4 dimensions; where dimensions 1 and 2 are the most visible and dimensions 3 and 4 are deeper (less visible).[2]

    Four Dimensions of CLA

    1. The Litany (day-to-day) future where solutions to problems are typically short term.
    2. Systemic Causes focused on social, economic, and political issues.
    3. The Worldview or the big picture paradigm informing what we think our reality is.
    4. The Myth or Metaphor where the deep unconscious story resides.

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      Let’s take a look at how each dimension is framed, questions to ask for each, and an example of each. [3]

      Dimension 1: Litany

      Here we are defining the problem. This is our unquestioned view of reality. For example, I am a former foster child and active in research to improve the current state of the foster care system. Think of our earlier discussion on cognitive dissonance. Whenever the deep issues in foster care are discussed, people tend to shut down and fail to engage in conversation. Instead, they view the conversation as an attack. They know there has to be a better way (and that the system is failing), yet they stick with the model they are comfortable with.

      Questions to ask in this dimension:

      • What is the issue?
      • How is the issue being reported in the media?
      • What are the known facts?
      • What is widely believed and not questioned?

      Litany example: The foster care system is surrounded with a ‘litany’ of problems. The insane reality of the foster care system can be summed up through these 5 key points:[4]

      • Often times you are stuck in a bad situation (either with your biological family or in foster care). If you fail to “win the lottery” and get adopted by a good family, you could be stuck in a horrific life.
      • Foster parents and the foster care system “may not” (notice how I said “may not”) have a childs best interest in mind.
      • A child can be surrounded and literally changed by bad influences.
      • Kids often disappear into the foster care system. Essentially, they are a life discarded.
      • Children get stuck in a viscous cycle of failure.

      Dimension 2: Systemic Causes

      Here we are looking at the systemic analysis and conducting an audit of the causes to the problem.

      Systemic Causes example: The Kansas foster care system is privatized. Yet, the system is in a state of crisis as more and more children are entering the foster care system. The current solution is to spend more; however, there is a strong positive correlation between spending more and the increased number of children entering foster care. This could be due to the fact that the contract ceases payment to contractors once a child leaves the foster care system. [5] Furthermore, the more children ente ring the system creates a need for more foster parents, for which there is already a shortage.

      Questions to ask in this dimension:

      • What factors are influencing the issue?
      • Who is involved?
      • What are the underlying causes?

      Let’s look at a tool we can use to help us in this dimension.

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      The Futures Wheel

      The futures wheel can assist us in anticipating future issues. This also helps us create new possibilities by seeing the world from an unconnected to a complex connected reality. [6]

      Continuing with our foster care example, let’s look at the current problem and see what the future looks like if we fail to change. Let’s look at the consequences and what is causing the Litany to appear on the “surface” in its current form. Here’s an example of the futures wheel:[7]

        Dimension 3: Worldview

        The Worldview is creating the present reality. Here we are looking at the current paradigms, cultures, and values. This includes the hidden societal values and structures that remain unquestioned. In this deeper layer, we are also looking at the values behind the ‘powers’ or influencers that perpetuate the litany. [8]

        Questions to ask in this dimension:

        • What are the hidden assumptions?
        • Who are the stakeholders?
        • Who has the majority of control over the issue?
        • What are the dominant views and ideologies of the ‘powers’ for this issue?

        Worldview example: There are a large number of stakeholders in the foster care system and they all have different views and ideologies. However, it is apparent that the current foster care paradigm needs shattered. We all recognize the foster care system is failing, yet, the current Worldview is we assume people will always do what is in the best interest of a child.

        Dimension 4: Myth or Metaphor

        Moving to the deepest layer of CLA is the Myth or Metaphor dimension. Here we are looking at the images that come to mind when we think of an issue and the gut or emotional responses the issue evokes.

        Questions to ask in this dimension: 1) What encapsulates the feelings in which this Worldview is grounded? 2) What myths or folk stories come to mind? 3) What metaphors come to mind?

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        Myth or Metaphor example:

        • The Allegory of the Cave presented by Greek philosopher Plato is a perfect comparison to the world of a foster child. This example would take up an entire article in itself. I recommend the following video if you are interested in learning more on this topic: The Cave
        • A child in foster care is like a stray puzzle piece. [9]
        • Foster care is like never-ending rain that turns a river into a raging torrent, sweeping away everything in its path.

        So, what should we do now?

        Create alternative futures with the end in mind

        After you complete your CLA, the next thing you must do is choose a different myth, metaphor, or narrative and create new (alternative) futures moving back up through the same dimensions. Flip the current system or paradigm on its head! Let’s stick with the river metaphor and create a new reality for foster children.

        Foster care is like a never-ending rain that turns a river into a raging torrent, sweeping away everything in its path. Let’s imagine what would happen if a foster child broke the cycle of failure… what if the rain stopped? When the rain finally stops and the flood subsides, the old growth has gone and there’s new fertile land waiting to be farmed.[10]

        To help us imagine this, let’s use a powerful tool called Backcasting.

        Move Backwards From Your Vision to the Present

        Backcasting is a navigational tool we can use to solve difficult or “Wicked” problems. With Backcasting, we start with the end in mind, where multiple paths exist. Another way to think of it is to think of scouting ahead. Let’s see what it looks like and walk through an example. [11]

          Steps in Backcasting

          Step #1: Set the timeframe.

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          Step #2: List how the problem is currently functioning by using your current CLA.

          Step #3: Define possible future states, for which I identified three. Complete a Future Wheel for each of these alternative future states.

          Step #4: Work backwards identifying actions and indicators.

          Step #5: Assess risks and opportunities.

          Backcasting is an extremely powerful tool as we can begin with the desired end state and work backwards uncovering (previously) hidden strategies to produce phenomenal transformation. It’s amazing the potential that exists if we would use these powerful approaches. CLA, Future Wheels, and Backcasting provide us an opportunity to radically improve any problem placed in front of us.

            When developing a solution to a problem, we cannot simply look at a single cause and effect relationship. This is not nearly dynamic enough. If we do this, we will overlook a problem. So, we must learn to find a problems blindspot. Lastly, I am reminded of a famous quote by Friedrich Nietzsche,

            “When you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

            Reference

            More by this author

            Dr. Jamie Schwandt

            Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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            Last Updated on August 20, 2018

            What Highly Successful People Do Every Day To Perform At Their Best

            What Highly Successful People Do Every Day To Perform At Their Best

            What separates highly successful people from the “average crowd?” This is a topic that is widely discussed.

            If you want to be successful, you have to watch carefully what other successful people do and imitate them. While every successful person has his or her own unique approach, there are a couple thoughts and actions they have in common.

            Here are 7 habits many successful people have!

            1. They make a difference

            If you have an idea, that idea has to change peoples life’s. As long as you’re not helping other people, it’s useless. Don’t start with an activity or business primarily to make money, it won’t work. When you create fans by offering your expertise, they are willing to pay for it. The problem with today’s entrepreneurial mindset is that’s all about “quick” money and not necessarily about making a difference.

            “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein

            2. They focus on productivity instead of on being busy

            Do you know those people who always say they can’t meet up with you or help with a certain thing because they’re always busy? I do, and to be honest I was one of them.

            When I look back, I don’t actually know with what I was being busy. I thought I was being busy, but now I realize I could have done many things in a much more productive way.

            Is 8 hours of work actually 8 hours when you’re checking your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram updates every 30 minutes? It’s necessary to take a rest once a while, but don’t get lost in hundreds of status updates that make you forget about your priorities.

            Looking for some tips? Check out this infographic: How to be productive by doing more and working less

            3. They keep setting S.M.A.R.T. goals

            You can never reach the success you want if you’re not setting goals. The trick is to set up a couple small, achievable goals and a couple of bigger ones. If you only set up huge, unachievable goals, you’ll get unmotivated and fall back into your old mindset. The small goals keep you motivated and give you the feeling you’re being productive once you achieve them.

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            Try setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, which is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. These goals are concrete and well-defined measures of your progress.

            A while ago, I asked a friend of mine what his goal was this year. He told me he wanted a sports car. I told him he will have much trouble reaching that goal because it isn’t specific. He needs to know the brand, the model, the color, what kind of rims etc. Only then he can define how long it’s going to take and what he needs to do in order to buy that car.

            4. They take action

            There is a big difference between talking or actually taking action. I’m pretty sure you have people around you who’ve said, “This year, I’m going to lose weight, become fit, and look like I’ve never looked before!” Or, “I’ve got such a good idea, I’m planning to start a new business, but first I’m going to do some research,” which probably results in never taking any action.

            Many of those people do take action, but the majority do not. It could be many things that keep them from taking action, like fear, no money, or no motivation. The trick is to make a plan and take action right from the start—choose to put in the effort to overcome those obstacles.

            5. They exercise and eat right

            The better you treat your body, the better you will feel, which results in better results. Successful people take time to prepare healthy meals and work out for at least 30 minutes a day.

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            Not having time to work out or prepare a healthy meal is nonsense. If you have time to watch TV or check your social media profile, you also have time to care about your body.

            You don’t necessarily need to lose weight or gain muscle, but try to stay in shape and watch your junk food intake.

            6. They always step out of their comfort-zone

            Successful people are willing to do everything they have to succeed. If they fail, they try it again and learn from it. The vast majority of people think differently and want to stay in their comfort zone.

            You can’t expect magic is going to happen when you always do the same things over and over again. You need to step up and start doing new things. The fear of failure is usually the reason that keeps people from acting.

            Think about something you’ve done in the past. Something that was so scary that it made you sweat, feel nauseous, or become overly nervous. That could be giving a speech in front of a big crowd or asking someone on a date. In the end, it wasn’t as scary and difficult as you thought, right? And you’ve learned from it.

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            Approach everything in your life this way. If you really want to become successful, you need to step out of your comfort zone.

            “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” — Brian Tracy

            7. They lead

            Successful people are also incredibly good leaders. How can you stand out of the crowd if you follow the herd like anyone else does? The main thing successful people do differently is that they think and act differently from the rest. But they do it in a way that creates fans who follow and support them.

            You don’t have to be a born leader, but you can learn to be one. An example of a great leader and entrepreneur is Elon Musk. He is the founder of SpaceX and co-founder of Zip2, PayPal, and Tesla Motors. By following his example, you just might find the great leader inside you.

            Have these tips helped you? Share them!

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            Featured photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via flickr.com

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